Soft Covers and Hard Lines

Ryan Frigillana on the photobooks, the unexpected photo, and connecting with yourself through art.

If I was ever asked to name someone who has a clear and visible passion for what they do, Ryan Frigillana would be the first and only name to come out of my mouth. I have talked a lot about how it is very hard for me to truly feel moved by images because content is pushed out at such high rates I get overwhelmed and nearly numbed to it all. However, there has never been a time where Ryan hasn’t moved me in some way. Either with his clear passion for what he does or his excitement for the people who are really making art. He never misses a beat in my book. Which is why any time he creates anything I am ready to like, share, or buy whatever he is putting out to the world. As we speak his book Visions of Eden is out on display in my room. It is the only photobook I leave out for people to look at. When I started this newsletter I knew I had to talk to Ryan who has been nothing but supportive of everything I do. I wanted to know everything about his process, his books, his plans for the future. Even if he didn’t feel like telling me, felt like being mysterious, I would try and get it out of him. He was the exact demographic this newsletter was made to promote. Someone creating work with such meaning and intensive thought and hard work, someone who deserved more than whatever Instagram offers. I could not stop telling people these past two weeks how amazing his responses to my questions were, how insightful and thoughtful they were. I could have kept asking him questions for months. But it’s Monday, which means the newsletter is out so I present to you with overwhelming excitement a conversation I had with Ryan Frigillana via Google docs.

AW: Can you tell people a little about yourself?

RF: Ava! Thank you so much for taking this time to talk with me! I feel honored to be a part of this space. About me, where to begin? I’m Philippine-born and now living in New York. I came here to the United States when I was five years old and have been figuring it out ever since. Photography was something I came into relatively late. From a young age, I’ve always gravitated to expression, either sketching or painting, even drawing comics lol. In high school I had a brief but intense love affair with writing. By the time college rolled around, I found myself two years deep into nursing school (thanks mom, I love you). I realized I wasn’t happy and that my heart truly belonged in the arts. At the time, I had a little Nikon FE film camera which I taught myself how to use—learning to expose, developing film in my bathroom etc. I was borrowing a stack of photobooks from the library every week, voraciously consuming them, and that’s how my passion for the medium really took off. In 2014 I enrolled into my local community college to study photography, and after being on and off with school I eventually received my BFA from FIT in 2020.

I consider myself a lens-based artist—much of my work with photography revolves around memory, intimacy, and family identity. With photography, I have a deep interest in archives whether they are private or public. Part of my fascination with photographs is that they are constantly shifting! With time, distance, and context our relationships to images change and so I feed into that with my work: recycling images, appropriating, and with my own imagery I often take exposures initially meant for one project and repurpose it into another. I think this way of working has been quite freeing for me.

AW: I totally understand that. I think quite a bit I’ve taken a photo for no project in particular, it just is a photo I want to take and everyone sees it as a photo for The Twins. It’s subconscious work which I think plays a huge role when you’re doing projects like yours. When it’s about your life your subconscious can really take control. Do you find your subconscious producing ideas that speak to what you want to say?

RF: Always! I think as photographers, our vision is an extension of our mind and heart and our interiority which is constantly spilling out of us whether we’re aware of it or not. To really funnel that into your work, you just have to be open and trust your sensibilities. How I’m feeling bleeds out into how I see the world, how I relate to what’s around me, and in turn how I react with a camera. In that sense, yes, my subconscious—my history, experiences, viewpoints, and even emotions—all these things play a part in everything I create. They’re inseparable. Whether you’re someone who conceives and then constructs their images, or someone like me who is more of a collector or archive-builder, I think it’s important to trust in your capacity to feel and the capacity of the still image to express what is ineffable.

AW: Sometimes it feels almost like intuition to take a photo. Have you ever had that? I know we just talked about subconscious photos but I mean have you ever really really not planned a photo and for whatever reason one is made by sheer luck? I’ve had it. The actual cover of my book was an accident and the most unplanned thing I’ve ever done. I had been walking up to fix my camera and accidentally started the 2 second timer and I just felt like I should pose so I did and there it was. My cover! I almost enjoy these types of photos more because I had no real preconceived image in my head so I don’t have to be a perfectionist. It’s like trusting my inner artist to get the job done. If this has happened I’d love to know which photo.

RF: Don’t you just love it when that happens? I admit, this is like 99.9% of the photos I take haha. I’m not one to preconceive or construct my images, so my process of picture taking is really more intuition-based. I accumulate a lot of photos, and then I’ll come back to them after some time has passed. In revisiting images, that’s when the lightbulb usually goes off in my head. Take for example the photo of the two birds in my driveway: I had no intention of making any kind of serious image at the time. I was testing out a new 85mm lens that I had received so I was literally just shooting whatever I could see through my window. These two birds showed up and I took several frames of them walking up and down my driveway. I thought nothing of it. When I reviewed the images again a few weeks later, I noticed the loving gesture of the birds, the subtle heart-shaped arrangement of their bodies together, and the wire fencing creating this illusion of them being caged or trapped even though they were completely free outside. All of these things clicked but I didn’t plan it or even recognize it at the time. But it’s one of those happy unexpected gifts. Now that photo has found its way into my next book.

AW: You have told me that your last two projects are books, is there a reason you are so drawn to producing books? How do photobooks tell your story better? 

RF: I think my love for photobooks can be traced back to all those weekends rummaging through my local library, and even before that, to the joy I felt flipping through my family’s photo albums. In this day and age, being constantly inundated with imagery from screens and pixels, it just feels so damn good to hold something…real! Even when I go to a gallery to view artwork hanging on pristine white walls, I don’t get the same satisfaction as when I’m holding a physical book in my lap, sitting in a quiet room, bathed in morning light, sipping a cup of coffee. It’s an intimate and, dare I say, reverent experience for me. The weight, the texture, the paper, even the smell haha. Every book has a smell! All these tactile things are wonderful and memorable. Books are like miniature movies for still images, except you can dwell on any scene for as long as you’d like. You can move freely in this space, taking your time. I’m not saying every project needs to be a book, but with the way I approach imagery—placing emphasis on visual relationships and how pictures can be suggestive like words or phrases—the photobook just makes sense. And let me just reiterate intimacy. The intimacy of the experience is everything for me.  

AW: Exactly I think books are just so special. That context and being able to basically own a whole body of work and have it right in your lap is amazing. That’s what always makes me feel better about posting my work. Sometimes while I would be making work I would get excited about a picture and post it and then feel terrible because I felt like I was “spoiling” all the good parts of my book. But when I thought about it in a more logical way, there is nothing to compare to physically holding work in your hands. Holding Visions of Eden was incredible when I got it. It’s so different to actually hold someone’s hard work in your hands and especially something so beautiful. I like how you talked about the intimacy and the relationship between not only the images on the page but also you and the book you’re holding. What do you look for to create intimate moments between the viewer and your images? Either in layout or just in the general experience of holding a book.

RF: I think your concerns about posting work online are valid. I also feel like there is this constant pressure to be seen and to stay engaged, and that can often make the experience of social media feel like something that cheapens your work, or maybe you feel pressured to produce work FOR social media. I totally get that! But I try to remind myself that it’s just one small facet of who I am as an artist. It’s also a two-edged sword because sometimes I actually find people on Instagram whose work I had never known about before, and I wind up buying their book! So there are good and bad things, but in the end nothing can ever replace the experience of holding a book or seeing work in person, and I don’t think sharing those images online could ever do anything to diminish that physical experience.  

When I’m making a book, especially one where intimacy plays such a huge role, I don’t necessarily fashion the work around my perceptions of an audience. I’m aware of an audience, of course, but it’s not the driving force behind the decisions I make. I look to be open and vulnerable with myself first and foremost. I look at the work and ask myself if it is an honest reflection of who I am and what I want to say. If at the end of the day the work resonates with me, then I have confidence it will resonate with others. In terms of how I want my work to engage with viewers, I like to create a space where people can enter and make the experience their own. The images in my book are only suggestions or waypoints that guide you, but they’re not explanations for anything. I don’t like to fully unpack my work or tell other people how it should be read, but rather I invite them to come into my space to “activate” or “animate” these images themselves. Everyone will approach my work leaving with something different, and they each complete the experience in their own way which I wholeheartedly welcome. That mental participation is how I hope to arrive at an intimate experience for each viewer.

AW: I love that you said you almost disregard the audience because I do the same! I think when I think too much about the audience I make the harshest decisions that I hate later. It was really difficult to realize that if it pleases me that is what matters the most. I also love that you don’t tell people what a photo is about! I do the same. I think sharing that experience and seeing new perspectives on what is behind a piece, what other people think, is so rewarding. I’ve had a few people share their stories with me because of my work, have you had that?

RF: Oh yeah that’s happened often, and every time I hear someone’s take on my work I always relish and enjoy what they’ve discovered for themselves because it’s also a moment of discovery for me as well. A big thing that I really miss about being in school was putting your prints up on the wall and seeing everyone crowd around, and just observing how people react to the work, what they take away from it. Sometimes I see my images in a new light based off of someone else’s vastly different perspective. That’s the scary (and amazing) thing about art is that once you’ve put it out there, you no longer have control over how people receive it. A dear friend of mine, who’s not an artist, told me that she was upset because she couldn’t “get” art or understand it sometimes, and I told her art is what you make of it. No one interpretation is right, and it’s ok if some things just don’t resonate with you. Any way you interpret something is valid as long as you can back it up with good observations.

AW: Making a book is an incredibly difficult process at times but it is incredible the things it teaches you. Have you learned anything about yourself, your work, or art in general through undertaking such a project? 

RF: Oh, it’s definitely been a learning experience. One thing I’ve learned is that it’s a marathon. Every day you’re tweaking something, constantly refining, whittling down, shaping it until there’s nothing left to shape. I’m sure you know what I mean! It seems endless. Even after the book is produced, I’ll find something to nitpick, but that’s another conversation. I think the process of making books has taught me to be a better, more ruthless editor with my work, to really consider everything as a whole. What’s the identity of this project? What am I really trying to say? A wise friend once told me something that’s always stuck: “Don’t look at the trees, look at the forest”.

AW: Someone recently interviewed me and asked how do I know when something looks good. It IS impossible to stop fixing things. Nothing will ever be perfect so it comes to a point where you just say okay this is what it is. I told them that when I edit my book, I know that the layout is good when I get an overwhelming sense of calm looking at it. Do you get what I mean? I feel like when something is really not the way I like it I get anxious and need to problem solve. It is really hard also to do this! Sometimes I will be looking at my book and I know I need to stop editing for the day when I start to feel like I have to change EVERYTHING. How do you go through that process because it is really difficult, what do you look for to signal a good edit? 

RF: The work can go on and on if you allow it! There’s always something. That sense of calm you’re referring to, I can relate. For me, I think I know I’m done when there’s nothing else I can add or remove from the edit to make it better… or if I’m sick of looking at the work. It’s like writing an efficient sentence—you want to get across what you need to say without it being too little or too much. And perfection is such an impossible ideal to strive for, so I try to create projects that feel whole or complete rather than something that tries to be perfect. Besides, I’d much rather create something that’s flawed but engaging than something that’s technically perfect or safe but feels emotionally sterile.  

In terms of the process, it’s a marathon like I mentioned, and you have to pace yourself. I’ve spent countless nights editing sequences and completely changing things around, and the following morning I say to myself, “What the hell did I just do? This is terrible”. At that point, it’s nice to step away from the work for a while, clean off your palette, and come back to it with fresh eyes. Time is so integral to my process—just allowing things to marinate and mature, spending time with the work (thinking, writing, creating, living life), and even taking necessary time off when needed. Every worthwhile endeavor takes time. Also, I think getting input from others is really important to keep yourself grounded throughout. And I love to look at/study other photobooks! Study how other photographers phrase their work: why does this particular sequence sing? Why does it fall flat? What are they doing with rhythm and tone, or spacing? You can learn a lot even from poorly produced books.

AW: I agree with all of this and have made the mistake of getting too worked up or not letting things settle long enough many times. I think that is great advice for any bookmaker. Stepping away from a project is really hard, especially when it’s not done. But I do it all the time. I can get really overwhelmed and so sometimes I will take some time to research instead of edit my book. I’ll open it up a few days after last looking at it and be pleasantly surprised with how not a mess it is! Just recently I was looking at a photobook and it changed my whole perspective on what my book was! I went home right away and felt so inspired. But do you have any other advice for people looking to make books? I feel like everything you’re saying is so spot on. 

RF: I think people often get intimidated by the idea of making a book. Maybe they feel a book has to be this super luxurious object made with the finest materials and French papers and inks, but it doesn’t have to be! I’ve seen some really interesting and amazing work laser printed on copy paper, bound with staples or stitched with a single piece of thread. The materials may not be premium, but the work itself and the ideas being presented are. And on the flip side I’ve seen books lavishly produced, but the content and the way it was presented just didn’t excite me. I guess what I’m saying is, don’t let your perceptions of the physical object or your budget deter you from creating something badass. You can do so much with what’s available today.

In terms of process, if you want to get better at sequencing or editing, a fun exercise is to spend the weekdays shooting. Shoot whatever: your home, your cat, your day at school/work. You can even use your phone. It doesn’t have to be anything profound, just make images! Then spend the weekend sequencing a short 15-20 page zine on your computer out of those images. The more you do this, the more you’ll develop a feel for a narrative flow. And most importantly, don’t forget to experiment and just have fun with it.

AW: Now that you are on your second photobook does it feel easier? Or maybe it feels the same, difficult in some ways the first was not?

RF: I don’t know if easier is the right word. With experience—knowing what to expect going forward—maybe it gets “easier” in that regard, but each project is different with a new set of headaches and obstacles to consider. You do strengthen some of your skills in the process like editing or sequencing which I mentioned earlier. I think mentally, I’m more prepared to take on this second book knowing now how much work is needed to make something polished. And with each new project, I enjoy challenging myself and pushing my comfort zones, confronting familiarity, and taking some risks. I think if there ever comes a time when making a book feels easy or comfortable, then I must be doing something wrong.  

AW: What challenges are you facing in this book that you did not face in your first? How have you been challenging yourself or pushing yourself out of your comfort zone? 

RF: Photography is only one component to my work; I’m interested in the interaction my photographs have with other forms of visual language. For Visions of Eden, that meant forming a dialogue with illustrations, family ephemera, and video footage. So when I say I like to challenge myself…I like finding unexpected ways to talk about something on my mind. I ask myself, “What is an entry-point to this work that could be fresh and unusual, that maybe gets people to think about something familiar in a new way?” Where Visions of Eden was a purely visual experience, my next book incorporates an element of recurring text that runs parallel to the imagery. The text may seem completely unrelated but it’s all suggestive information, just like the photographs themselves. This is something new for me. Text is tricky because you don’t want it to over-power the images, but you do want it to inform the reading in some way. It’s a fine balance. This book will also be risograph printed, which is a process similar to screen printing, but much faster to reproduce. This printing process, hopefully, will create something that feels a little more personal and tactile.

AW: Is this “found text” or text you’ve written yourself, or maybe both? How did you come to create this text?

RF: It’s all found text culled from daily reports made throughout 2020. But I’ll leave it at that. I kind of want that experience to be a surprise for the viewer. I will say that the text information is completely mundane on its own, but when combined with the imagery it’s supposed to synthesize new trains of thought. I wanted to provide another entry point into the work and get people to contemplate the images in a specific way, but without forcing them down a path. The text is like a gentle hand that just nudges you in a certain direction.   

AW: In Visions of Eden you appropriate images from your family. Did you start to notice any patterns in the images? Things you maybe didn’t notice about your family or the dynamic of your family in the past?

RF: That’s an interesting thought. I would say the thing I noticed most while combing through my family albums is what was being photographed. It’s fascinating what is revealed by looking through other people’s albums. You can see the joy, the displays of gesture and proximity, the relationships—you see what they value! Why was this moment memorialized?

Looking at the photos of my family when we first immigrated here, I see a lot of things that may seem mundane—a day at the park, posing in front of a flower garden, lying on a fresh-cut lawn, playing in the snow. But as I thought about it more, I began to realize what these images meant to my mother who was the one behind the camera. These were images of celebration, enjoying the sweet fruits of her labor. She came here on her own, worked hard as a nurse, and brought our whole family over. The fresh-cut lawns, the snow days…these were all things foreign to us back in the Philippines, and in documenting these moments it was as if to say, “look where we are now”.

AW: That realization is very interesting to me. I combed through my family albums as research too and I get the mundanity of life being documented. This mundane experience of my parents taking the photos is entirely different from your mother’s. Did you appreciate the photos more that way? I think in comparison my family photos are very “normal” it is suburban life whereas yours, there is this “American dream” aspect that you’re seeing this paradise and promised land and you’ve made it. That is sort of what I get from the whole thing. Do you look at these images in the same way as your mom did or do you see them differently?

RF: Maybe when I was younger, no, I didn’t view them that way. But now with some introspection and being older, I can put myself in my mother’s shoes and see why she took joy in capturing these moments. Maybe if I’m ever a parent one day, I’ll understand this even better—and that’s a perfect example of how a relationship to a photograph can shift! I think making these photos was also a way of validating our experiences, and that’s something every family does. It’s funny but now I’m sort of the “guardian” or keeper of my family’s archives, or I’m the only one who seems to have any remote interest in them anymore. These albums and home movies have been sitting in our basement or garage, and that project gave me an excuse to dig them up and engage with them from a personal and artistic standpoint. I’m glad I was able to do that.

AW: Have any of the themes from Visions of Eden followed through to The Weight of Slumber? Faith and identity are huge themes that you’ve talked about in Visions of Eden but I can see how they might carry over to your work in other projects. 

RF: Those projects may seem like two very different things on the surface, but I believe there are underlying threads that tie these works together: intimacy and trauma. Intimacy is naturally bound to everything I create because that’s my lived experience. I think the most compelling work one can make is ultimately fueled by one’s own desires, anger, curiosities, or even heartbreaks. It feels real to an audience because it first had to feel real for you. I’d say these two projects have been my most vulnerable to date. Visions of Eden was about my family’s story as immigrants; it’s a love letter of sorts, but it is also a critique on institution and religious indoctrination—things that I still grapple with today.

The Weight of Slumber, which is the book I’m working on now, focuses on the relationship I have with myself rather than with my family. It’s a much more introspective and psychological project dealing with loss, isolation, and the undulating nature of grief. The work began around the time COVID really took off back in April 2020. I had just experienced the abrupt end of a long-term relationship which hit me really hard, and then compounded with the extended time isolating at home, not being able to see friends or go out places...it really just felt like an insurmountable weight. Add the whole stress and anxiety of the pandemic to this, and the loss of people I knew—It was a dark time. I began thinking about intimacy again, about touch, and proximity, and the temporal nature of things. I began photographing cathartically as a way to keep my sanity—everything within arm’s reach at first: insects in my yard, the snow blowing in through my bedroom window, my houseplants wilting. Hands are a recurring element. I was so desperate for connection, that I found it in the spaces around me, in my solitary moments, in my own company. I also started obsessively collecting found photographs on eBay, old pictures of couples mainly. After my relationship ended, I couldn’t bear to look at pictures of my partner, but for some reason I could look at these worn and faded snapshots of strangers that reminded me of her, of us, and not feel so terrible. They were like surrogates for my own memories. I scanned these photographs, sometimes inverting them or cropping into certain gestures of touch. I did all this collecting and image-making for a while without having any real inclination to make a project out of it, but after many months I could see all these elements begin to emerge as something that could exist and converse together. And the book was born.  

AW: That is interesting the observations you’re making on other couples through found photos. It’s surpassing just you in a way even if it is about you which I think is what makes personal projects successful. To be able to speak to a larger audience and say what we’re all thinking is huge. I get that from these images. COVID was an incredibly difficult time and people were grieving everything it seems. As we start to move towards a more “normal” life I start to see myself appreciating things more. I used to hate PDA I hate hugging either me doing or seeing other people do it. Lately, as I walk around New York I find myself being drawn to taking photos of people embracing after being unable to or scared for so long. Covid didn’t convert me into a hugger, but it made me appreciate love in that sense more. As isolation has ended and restrictions have been lifted do you feel freer? Has your work altered as things began going back to “normal” or do you still feel stuck with the weight of that grief? Grieving obviously takes time but how has your project been altered, if at all, through the course of probably one of the most uncertain times in your life? 

RF: That gift of touch and being close to others is something I’ve come to appreciate more as well. I think it’s something we all took for granted in a way, only to realize it when we could no longer physically express those gestures of love. The bulk of my work was done throughout 2020 at the height of the pandemic, and early 2021. At this point my project is basically in the finishing stages now and just waiting to be printed. So I can’t say the return to “normality” has altered much in terms of the makeup of my book. This book is like a little time capsule of a dark period, and for the most part I’ve left that darkness behind, but I can revisit its pages with a sense of clarity and gratitude. I do feel lighter now and more hopeful than ever, and I’m eager to start making new work again as I’m able to travel safely.

AW: Oh okay I see, so this is truly capturing the heaviest moments. Do you attribute this hopefulness to your work or something else? Did this hope arise when you were making work or was it just the nature of moving on?

RF: I think it’s just the nature of moving on. Having invested the time in processing everything and healing myself, and accepting…I can finally let go. In doing research for my book, I learned that grief is a result of an incomplete connection. We lose something: a loved one, a partner, or even a pet, and we grieve because there were so many things left that we wanted to do with them, or say to them, but we never did. Or we hold onto regret because we think of things we could’ve done differently while they were still here. It’s these hopes and dreams, and the disruption of familiarity in our lives that weighs heavily on us. Grief recovery is about confronting all those “could’ves, should’ves, and what-ifs” and making peace with them. A lot of people—myself included at first—find ways to distract or run away from that grief, but that’s only a temporary solution. I hope anyone who is reading this and maybe going through that process themselves can find the strength to confront the root of what’s hurting them.  

AW: Visions of Eden focuses on your family while The Weight of Slumber focuses mainly on yourself. Have the projects helped you come to understand yourself and/or your family better? Or maybe has it helped you understand people better?

RF: With every project I undertake, I learn a little something about myself and my relation to the world around me. Everything really starts by looking inward. I think in making art I often begin with feelings or emotions that are unresolved—something bothers or intrigues me—and the process of creating helps me to clarify those feelings or to address them. With Visions of Eden, I sought to confront and understand both my fraught relationship to religion and my duality as a Filipino-American. With The Weight of Slumber, I emerged from that project having a better understanding of my grief and the non-linear process of my own healing. I make these works for myself first because I need to, and my hope after that, if I’ve stayed true to my feelings, is that others will connect to the work as well.  

AW: Sometimes I think the only way to actually understand how or what I am feeling is to make work. It is therapeutic in a way because obviously to just come out and say how you feel is hard, then if you have no basic understanding of what’s going on if you don’t know how to express something so raw, making work is incredibly helpful and freeing. The project is so intimate I feel as though there must be some release for you. Instead of holding it all in and thinking about it which is incredibly draining and at times anxiety inducing. Both processes are really hard and I commend you for making something out of your pain as terrible as it all is. In doing the twins I sort of came to the realization how terrible I felt about some things I had been told about who I was. In photographing how I felt I was forgiving the things that happened to me that I couldn’t control. It was sort of like saying the stories I had been told about myself don’t have to be true if I don’t want them to be. That was a hard thing to do to admit those things. Do you find it hard to look inwards with such an intimate and painful subject? Or was it natural for you to do this to process it all?

RF: There are some things that words simply can’t express or articulate, and that’s the beauty of pictures—they can take over where words fall short. Making art is like having a deep emotional conversation with yourself. You share your grievances, questions, observations, you even quarrel with yourself, and at the end of it, the “thing” that you create is the record of that conversation. After this ordeal, you emerge having a better understanding of the person in the mirror. In the case of your Twins project or with my last two projects, we both had to face uncomfortable or painful truths. It’s never easy looking inward. We bury or hide so much of ourselves from others that it can be scary to peek inside and see what’s been festering in there. But I think that acknowledgment is crucial to making work that is vulnerable. People can recognize that vulnerability and empathize with it because at the end of the day we’re all flawed, we all have insecurities, and every one of us experiences pain. We’re human.

AW: In The Weight of Slumber you’re exploring grief, you have a selection of images that either feel alive or are alive. I myself can see the connection you have with these objects. I can feel that they matter to you. Exploring your grief and trying to heal during this uncertain time can be very difficult. Has the process of making the book helped you heal? Or has it been a struggle to reintroduce yourself with the feelings you had in the past? 

RF: I feel it’s been a part of my overall healing. Making these images, conceptualizing this book—it was all done while still navigating through these emotions. The potency that I hope the work holds is fueled by whatever anguish I was feeling at the time. I feel so fortunate to have found art in my life because it truly is a vessel for me to pour myself into. Whatever weight that I carry, I can unload it into this beautiful thing that’s uniquely mine and no one can take it away from me. And then in sharing my art with others, that load becomes lighter and lighter. So yes, it was a struggle confronting those emotions at first; it always is. But sitting with those feelings and allowing myself to just ride those waves—it was important for me to do that, not just so I can make sense of my work, but to ultimately complete my grief in the process.

AW: That is honestly a very beautiful way to put it. I know what you mean. I find it very difficult at times to express myself with words and to do it with images is so much easier and so natural. It is nice to connect with people on this level to meet people who understand what you are saying. It makes you feel not as alone as you once thought. A unique experience for sure, but to find comfort in similar feelings or someone who maybe didn’t go through it but knows what you’re saying is such a gift. Have you found comfort in people who understand your work? I think a hard part of grief is feeling like you’re the only one who cares anymore or who cares about what you’re going through at all. People move on and you’re still left hurt. I know for the most part this is unreleased but maybe in sharing your work for critique were you able to connect with others who had similar feelings? If you have, how has that helped you make work or edit your book or maybe understand better what you are saying?

RF: The Weight of Slumber has yet to be released so whether or not it connects with others, or in what capacity, remains to be seen. The physical book and the experience associated with it is what I’m eager for people to finally engage with, so we’ll see. During the whole process of creating this work and navigating through my own grief, I did confide in others, some friends, and even strangers who had been going through the same thing. What I’ve learned is that everyone grieves differently and there is no one formula or timetable for healing. Grief comes in waves and the process of recovery is non-linear. You’ll have stretches of good days and bad days, and when you think you’re finally ok, another wave comes and knocks you over. It's draining. When you flip through the pages of my book, moving from beginning to end, you’ll notice this sentiment mirrored in the way I structure my images and text. There’s an ebb and flow to it all. I wanted it to feel like I was taking you through the grieving process with me and into my headspace at the time. That psychological space is something so difficult to recreate because you’re using a representational medium (photography) to describe something that can’t be seen. Hopefully, I’ve succeeded in creating an experience that’s visceral and compelling.

AW: Is there anything else we should know about you, your projects, or any other work? I feel like some of my most important ideas are left unsaid, for a reason of course. But is there anything we should know that you aren’t telling us? Anything you want us to know that hasn’t been said? Maybe an answer to a question I didn’t ask! 

RF: I can’t say I have anything that’s been left unsaid or kept hidden. Whatever I’m working on next is still, in a lot of ways, a puzzle to me and I’m figuring that out as I go. So I guess we’re all going through this mystery trip of life together! I do want to just say thank you for holding this place for artists; I think these spaces of community where one can be vulnerable are so important. It’s like a watering well that we visit together for a much-needed drink, and we leave refreshed and renewed. And that’s how I feel right now.

Treat your work with the care and respect it should command, or no one else will. Your work and what you have to say is worthy and deserving, regardless of who is or isn’t validating it. Pour yourself into what you do, have fun with it, struggle with it, hate it, learn from it. But just do the work FIRST! Everything else will follow.

This newsletter is brought to you by:

2 pm naps for allowing me to hit my sleep quota of 5-ish hrs/day.

Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours on 60% volume for just the right work-space ambiance.

Chapstick (or any lip balm) because moisture is everything.

Swiffer wipes(preferably unscented) because the #1 enemy of photography is dust.

Red wine because.


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